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Tag: good works

Just so no one accuses me again of forbidding good works, let me say that one should with all seriousness be contrite and remorseful, confess and do good works. … After [the grace of God] we can do a lot of good [works]—to the glory of God alone and to the benefit of our fellow-men, and not in order that we might depend upon that as sufficient to pay for our sin. For God gives us his grace freely and without cost; so we should also serve him freely and without cost.

—Martin Luther
“Word and Sacrament I” in LW, 35:17.

For my own sake, for my own sake, I do it,
for how should my name be profaned?
My glory I will not give to another.
—Isaiah 48:11

Here you see that a self-righteous person is a thief of the divine glory and also an idolater, because he lays claim to God’s glory for himself. He does not pray, “Hallowed be Thy name.” Aspiring to the glory of divinity is a most grievous monstrosity. Here you see the battle between God and the self-righteous concerning glory. The outward glory of this world is nothing compared with it. The self-righteous want to rob God of His glory. And God will not permit this.

The self-righteous man thinks that God will give him rewards for fasting and labor. He thinks that without these God will give him nothing. He thinks precisely that God is someone who will save him through his works, not for the sake of free grace. To this fiction, “God will save me through my works,” he attributes salvation.

This is the most persistent struggle and battle of the world against God. No one wants to rely on God’s glory alone and repudiate all his own merits. For that reason there are so many examples in Scripture which invite us to look to grace alone, whether we eat or whether we drink. So there are endless examples of sins, such as of the robber, that draw us to God’s grace alone.

He wants to make our heart … neither despair because of sins nor be presumptuous because of blessings. … Let the one who has fallen into sin say, “I shall not be condemned because of it.” Let the one who has done well say, “I am not saved thereby.” This teaching applies to the godly only, but for the rest of the crowd it opens the window of carnal liberty. The godly simply cling to God and trust in His grace. They see that the apostles and robbers were saved by the same grace, not by works and merits. This is a thunderbolt against every kind of righteousness.

—Martin Luther
“Lectures on Isaiah: Chapters 40-66” in Works, 17:162–163.

Faith is not the human notion and dream that some people call faith. When they see that no improvement of life and no good works follow—although they can hear and say much about faith—they fall into the error of saying, “Faith is not enough; one must do works in order to be righteous and be saved.” This is due to the fact that when they hear the gospel, they get busy and by their own powers create an idea in their heart which says, “I believe”; they take this then to be a true faith. But, as it is a human figment and idea that never reaches the depths of the heart, nothing comes of it either, and no improvement follows.

Faith, however, is a divine work in us which changes us and makes us to be born anew of God, John 1:12–13. It kills the old Adam and makes us altogether different men, in heart and spirit and mind and powers; and it brings with it the Holy Spirit. O it is a living, busy, active, mighty thing, this faith. It is impossible for it not to be doing good works incessantly. It does not ask whether good works are to be done, but before the question is asked, it has already done them, and is constantly doing them. Whoever does not do such works, however, is an unbeliever. He gropes and looks around for faith and good works, but knows neither what faith is nor what good works are. Yet he talks and talks, with many words, about faith and good works.

Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures. And this is the work which the Holy Spirit performs in faith. Because of it, without compulsion, a person is ready and glad to do good to everyone, to serve everyone, to suffer everything, out of love and praise to God who has shown him this grace. Thus it is impossible to separate works from faith, quite as impossible as to separate heat and light from fire. Beware, therefore, of your own false notions and of the idle talkers who imagine themselves wise enough to make decisions about faith and good works, and yet are the greatest fools. Pray God that he may work faith in you. Otherwise you will surely remain forever without faith, regardless of what you may think or do.

—Martin Luther
Works, 35:370–371 (Preface to Romans).

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